‘I want my country back’: Tories fear more defections after Lee Anderson quits for Farage-linked Reform UK

Former Tory deputy chairman leaves the Conservatives and exposes the fractures that threaten to overwhelm its ‘red wall’

The leadership of Britain’s Conservative party is on alert for more defections among its MPs after former party deputy chairman Lee Anderson switched ranks to the Nigel Farage-linked party, Reform UK.

Mr Anderson’s decision to quit for the insurgent right-wing party has exposed deep divisions between the Conservatives’ right flank and prime minister Rishi Sunak.

It has also highlighted the Tories’ difficulties in shoring up support in their “red wall” of working-class seats in the north of England; Mr Anderson, a former coal miner, represents Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, a safe Labour seat for 40 years until he won it under Boris Johnson in 2019.

The New Conservatives, a Tory faction that represents many of the 2019 red wall contingent, said Mr Anderson’s decision proved the government needed to “change course urgently” and toughen up on issues such as immigration.


“We cannot pretend any longer that the ‘plan is working’,” said the faction’s co-chairs, MPs Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates, echoing a standard retort by Mr Sunak to criticism of his policies.

The defection of Mr Anderson represents a personal blow to the prime minister, who had handpicked him last year to be one of the Tories’ top officials. Labour said it raised questions about Mr Sunak’s judgment. Mr Anderson said he did not tell the prime minister in advance that he was quitting.

“I want my country back,” said the new and, so far, only Reform UK MP, as he explained it in Westminster. He told GB News, where he works as a presenter, that the prime minister was a “decent man” but should never have removed the party whip from him last month.

Mr Anderson had been suspended by the Tories after he was accused of making bigoted remarks about Labour’s London mayor, Sadiq Khan, whom he alleged was under the “control” of Islamists protesting against the Gaza war.

He doubled down on those remarks after quitting for Reform: “We’re giving our country away to people who do not like our way of life. I want to be able to feel safe walking the streets at night.”

Mr Anderson admitted misleading journalists who in recent months had asked him about rumours swirling Westminster that he was in talks to switch to Reform. He previously said defecting would hand an advantage to Labour, while in January he also dismissed Reform’s leader, Richard Tice, as a “pound shop Nigel Farage”.

Mr Tice held a press conference on Monday to welcome Mr Anderson, who said that things had “moved on” since his January comments, citing the byelection win since then of left-wing firebrand George Galloway, which he said showed parliament was “sleepwalking into disaster”.

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said it had been an “error” by Mr Sunak to remove the whip from Mr Anderson over his comments about Mr Khan, for which he had refused to apologise.

Other members of the Conservative party, however, criticised Mr Anderson for quitting the party. Referring to his failure to inform Mr Sunak of his plans, Jackie Doyle-Price, the Tory MP for Thurrock in Essex, said Mr Anderson was a “big girl’s blouse”.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times